B.C. won’t be introducing new restrictions, despite new modelling data suggesting that coronavirus infections will likely climb over the coming days and weeks due to the Omicron variant.
According to modelling data released by the B.C. government Tuesday, new cases could reach as high as 2,000 by early January while hospitalizations could climb above 75 people per day in an extreme scenario.
“There will be more cases,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, during a live briefing Tuesday.
The government’s modelling data focused on the Omicron variant potential impact and looked at four different scenarios ranging from less severe to very severe.
All four scenarios suggest that cases would climb, ranging from as low as around 800 to 900 per day in less severe scenarios to 1,000 to 2,000 plus cases in worst-case situations. Hospitalizations, in more positive or less severe scenarios, would range from less than 25 people per day to under 45 per day by the beginning of 2022. In worst-case scenarios, however, hospitalizations would range from over 25 per day to 75 people and above per day.
“We don’t know if Omicron will be able to evade the immune defences that are given through vaccination … we’re putting these pieces together,” explained Henry. “There is still a lot we do not know about this new strain and how it may affect transmission, how it may affect people who to go hospital.”
Forty-four Omicron cases have been already been confirmed in British Columbia — the majority of them occurring in vaccinated individuals — with five linked to Vancouver Island, and more expected in the coming days. Henry said, while there is much to learn about the variant, it’s clear that when daily infections climb, hospitalizations eventually do as well.
“We do know is that when cases go up, the percentage of people that end up needing hospital care go up as well,” she said. “This is a time where more than ever we need to hold the line. We need to continue to do those things that we know work and they work against the strains that we have been dealing with for the last year and a half, but particularly for the last few months, and they will work against Omicron.”
No new restrictions or rules announced
Despite acknowledging that little is known about Omicron, B.C. health officials did not announce any new restrictions on Tuesday.
Instead, Dr. Henry urged people to get vaccinated if they hadn’t already, get their booster shot if they’re eligible to do so and to “rethink” any planned indoor gatherings where unvaccinated individuals could be in attendance.
“We should not be having large parties right now where we are coming together indoors, particularly with people we don’t know, where we don’t know their vaccination status,” she said. “That’s where this virus is taking hold and spreading rapidly and we know that is going to be even more of a risk with Omicron.”
This time last year, there were a range of restrictions and measures in place in B.C., which at that time had a largely unvaccinated population, that included limits on indoor dining, restrictions on socialization, and an outright ban on community gatherings of any size.
Henry said that although COVID-19 is transmitted more easily indoors, particularly if ventilation is poor, vaccinated individuals can continue to gather indoors because the province has a vaccine card system in place along with an indoor mask mandate.
“We also have our B.C. vaccine card in place and that is a program that helps us mitigate the risk in some of those settings where we can come together, knowing that everybody in that setting is vaccinated,” she said. “It does not eliminate the risk and we have seen that.”
B.C.’s top doctor urged people to “step back” and spend time with smaller groups of people who are vaccinated.
“We need people to step back and focus on having those groups with your close friends, close family, in a way that protects them,” she said. “That means if you’re going to have people over at your house, have vaccinated people to your house, particularly if you have elders if you have people in your house that are immunocompromised.”
Asked by a member of the media during Tuesday’s briefing about whether British Columbians can expect any new restrictions in the coming days, Henry said “fairly strong” restrictions are already in place.
“What we have tried to do is put in restrictions in areas where we know transmission is the highest risk. So, we have in place, fairly strong restrictions around events and gatherings,” she said.
At the end of the day, Henry said, what will get B.C. through this “new uncertain time” of the pandemic is keeping groups small, getting vaccinated, staying outside, keeping ventilation in our homes, among other things.
“We want to ensure that this time of the year is a joyous time of the year, we want to remember to do those things that are so important to get us through this new uncertain time,” she said. “That means going out for a walk with somebody, remembering to find that joy every day in our lives, take the precautions that we are all familiar with and that we know work.”
“These are important things for us to get through this holiday season.”